Our hands-on session with Media Molecule's impossibly ambitious new project only barely scratched the surface of what it's capable of.
Dreams, the mysterious new project from LittleBigPlanet creators Media Molecule, has been the subject of much speculation and head-scratching since it made its nebulous, untitled first appearance at the PS4 reveal event way back in 2013. What the heck is this thing? Is it a game? Is it a creative tool? How flexible is it, really? How do you play it? What the heck is this thing?
We play Dreams with creative director Mark Healey
After an all-too-brief 45-minute demo with creative director Mark Healey, I finally understand. The answer: Dreams is a fully featured game creation engine that anybody with a PS4 and a copy of the game will be able to dive straight into, no game dev experience required.
I say all-too-brief, because it turns out 45 minutes just isn’t enough time to really even scratch the surface of what Media Molecule’s ambitious, incredible new experience is capable of.
Often, when something is said to be “accessible,” that can mean “limited in some way.” What Media Molecule has done here is truly impressive — just about every aspect of game creation is included in the creative toolkit at the core of Dreams, and rather than saying “Oh, it’s just a more limited version of game engines that are on the market today,” what they’ve done is approach the creative process from a different perspective altogether.
In Dreams, navigating your canvas (which is really just a huge open space) is a breeze. Thanks to the motion sensors inside DualShock 4, I used the controller as a sort of laser pointer, moving my Imp (the customizable fuzzy little critters who act as your cursor) around the screen to grab objects with the R2 trigger. Holding R1 anchors your viewpoint to an object, letting you then move your controller to swing your viewpoint around whatever you’re latched onto. Hold L1 (nicknamed the “shift key” by Healey) and move an item to duplicate it, rotate your controller to rotate the object, or change its size using the D-pad. It’s all very intuitive.
Dreams supports PlayStation VR as well, so existing or aspiring creators can work inside a truly three-dimensional canvas. We haven’t seen that in person yet, but it boasts enormous promise.
Media Molecule has always been a studio whose goal is to empower creators, and Dreams fulfills that idea in a way nothing before it has ever even attempted. “That was always the plan,” explains studio director Siobhan Reddy when asked about Dreams’ full-fledged story campaign — which Media Molecule built completely within the game itself, using the exact same tools players will have access to when Dreams ships. “In order to make a games-making tool, you need to make a game.”
Listen to our interview with Media Molecule’s studio director, Siobhan Reddy
One of the many “whoa, this game can do that?” moments during my time with Dreams was seeing just how much work has gone into its music creation suite. The options available here are truly staggering: musicians of any experience level (including zero) can choose from a library of instruments and record a performance in a live environment, then blow it out into a full timeline view that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever used a music creation application. Not content with the musical tools other Dreamers have created and made available? Make your own by recording any sound with PlayStation Camera’s built-in microphone, or import sounds via an upcoming web app, then apply any number of effects or filters to create your own custom instrument.
We knew Media Molecule was swinging for the fences with Dreams, but it wasn’t until I sat down to see it in person that I truly realized what they’ve achieved here. They’ve created an honest-to-goodness game development engine that anybody with a PS4 can dive into. One where every aspect of game creation comes together seamlessly in a single creative palette — no backing out to the main menu to go into music mode or anything like that; it’s all right there with a tap of the Square button.
If you’re more of a player than a creator, there will be plenty here for you, too. In addition to the full campaign mentioned earlier, players can also go “Dream Surfing,” which queues up a playlist of experiences from creators all over the world for you to play in sequence (think about how streaming video services can auto-play new episodes and videos without you having to seek them out).
“We’re really just expanding the team,” Healey noted when discussing the eventual release of Dreams. Media Molecule has already created a bevy of wildly imaginative experiences within the game, but once the world at large gets their hands on this thing, we’ll see what it’s really capable of.
No word on a release date just yet, but Mm has confirmed there will be a beta for Dreams happening later this year. Stay tuned for more updates as we’re ready to share them. In the meantime, feel free to start sketching out your debut game ideas.